The Silence Living in Houses

'Esther Morgan's first collection promised that here was a significant poetic talent in the making. The Silence Living in Houses makes good on that promise with poems of outstanding beauty and a decidedly celebratory wisdom that takes nothing for granted. This is poetry of the first order by a poet who really knows how to sing'
- John Burnside

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The Silence Living in Houses

Esther Morgan

2005 Bloodaxe Books

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The Silence Living in Houses

The Silence Living in Houses is my second collection published by Bloodaxe Books. Written in three sections, the first unlocks the doors to houses of secrets and dreams where ghosts of the past are more real than the living. It traces the presence of those whose stories are fading like the wallpaper: a servant girl who smashed the dinner service and disappeared; the sisters whose macabre end is still spoken of in whispers; the mistress who breathes sweet nothings from behind the roses. At the heart of the book is the darkest of interiors where the threat and practice of violence forges a bond as unbreakable as the Mafia's code. But not all houses are unsafe: in the final section the poems summon up the haunted blood of family, revealing how what remains unspoken is as much concerned with love as it is with loss.

What links the three sections is the idea of interiors, both as physical spaces and psychological states. However, this unifying idea came through a process of discovery, rather than being a plan from the start. The first section in particular grew out of my domestic circumstances over the past few years, specifically my move to Oxfordshire with my partner to caretake an Edwardian house in the countryside. It sounds idyllic and it has been a tremendous gift, partly because the house itself remains very much as it was when it was first built: the servants' bells are still in evidence, old photos of the family that used to live here fill the cupboards, much of the furniture dates from the time of the first owner. It's never been renovated, so this means (apart from certain inconveniences like no central heating) that the house has a very strong sense of the past, to the extent that sometimes it feels as if the former residents are more real than we are, that it's us who are the transient presences. I've never seen a ghost here, (or anywhere else for that matter) but my imagination certainly has. In effect the house, lost as it is amongst towering horse chestnuts, with its overgrown garden and collapsing conservatory, has provided a setting for some of the ideas that I've always been interested in: the hidden lives of women, family secrets, what it means to occupy a space and what traces we leave behind us.

The second section of the book is influenced by my time working for Social Services in Oxford. I was only on the administration side, minuting Child Protection conferences, but the job gave me an intimate insight into very difficult lives, frightening houses. Once I'd begun developing a set of poems about the interiors of the old house, the idea of the unsafe house became a way of exploring some of the stories I heard during the conferences (I was careful to use no real details in the poems of the cases I heard). I was very struck by a comment made by an experience Social Worker who said that, in the right context, domestic violence can be a raised eyebrow, because of the threat implied in the gesture. In these poems I was seeking to explore how an interior can become a prison, for the body and the min, and how someone might seek to escape it.

For the final section I returned to memories of interiors from my childhood, my grandmother's house which also seemed to belong to another, more ancient era, heated by a coal fire, dark and simultaneously comforting and slightly scary. Again the rooms of these early houses take on psychological dimension as I explore some of the sensed but not understood tensions between my mother, her mother and myself.

Explore poems from all three sections of the book:

  • Section 1: The House Of
  • Section 2: The Silence Living in Houses
  • Section 3: Are You Homesick for the House of Cards?

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